WCAG is dead – so what now?
UX design director Julie Dodd reveals why the Mobile Monday London session on 'Inclusive and Accessible Design' was a momentous occasion…
At 7.30pm on 11 June 2012, the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were pronounced dead by a panel of industry experts. These are the guidelines the industry has been trying (and largely failing) to follow for the past 10 years.
At Zone we've regularly worked with people with disabilities to understand what helps and what frustrates them online. Even so, these guidelines have been an important reference for anyone wanting to create digital products that don't discriminate. So, what happened?
It's not the fault of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium). It has worked hard to make the web a fairer place, but WCAG 2.0 was released in 2007: critically, before the arrival of the smartphone. And it is the ubiquity of smartphones that really calls these tired guidelines into question.
Fortunately, the keynote speech by BBC accessibility specialist Henny Swan provided some useful pointers on how accessible design can be achieved across devices:
1. Don’t disable a smartphone’s innate device accessibility. Smartphone manufacturers (Apple in particular) have designed them with in-built access options such as screenreaders, text zoom and voice input. Don't do anything that stops those features working (for example, suppressing pinch zoom).
2. Collapse main navigation and remove skip links on touch and mobile. Skip lines are a key point of the WCAG rules for desktops, but on smartphones they shouldn't be needed, as your navigation should be compact enough to skim quickly.
3. Make sure tap areas are big enough and have space around them. I struggle enough to hit the right link on some sites, even with my skinny fingers. For anyone with motor control difficulties or impaired vision, dense lists of links or buttons jammed next to each other can be impossible to manage.
4. Test on every device! It may not be feasible to test every product with real users on every device, but it's really important. In truth the WCAG rules aren't really dead, they're just in need of a shake-up now that smartphones are everywhere. Let’s focus on making touch and mobile interfaces really inclusive now, and avoid the mistakes we made in accessibility for the desktop web.
Check out the Mobile Monday London blog for a full write-up of the event.